The major developmental task of infants and very young children is the formation of an attachment bond with a caregiver/s who is reliable and responsive to the child’s emotional and physical needs. A baby is completely reliant on their caregiver for survival, and later, for physical and emotional comfort as they explore the world and begin to form beliefs about their capacity to influence those around them. At this age, children are learning to trust their caregiver, as well as their own ability to exert influence on the world.
Children’s attachment experiences are thought to be the foundation for their later social, emotional and cognitive development. A child’s attachment relationship is shaped by how consistently and reliably their caregiver can respond to them when they signal their needs (McLean, 2016). A positive attachment experience is associated with consistent, reliable, and responsive caregiving (Cassidy, 2008). Through experiencing consistent, responsive and predictable care, a young child learns that, through their own actions (such as crying or holding out their arms), they are able to control whether their needs are met (McLean, 2016).
This formative experience gives a young child a sense of their own agency in the world, and of the ‘trustworthiness’ of others – beliefs that become internalised as a ‘working model’ or template. This template in turn forms the basis for the child’s developing self-concept, self-esteem, and emotional, social and cognitive development (DeKlyen & Greenberg, 2008).
Towards the end of this stage of development, a child is beginning to see themselves as a being that is separate from their caregiver, and capable of different thoughts and feelings, although this experience can be fleeting and temporary. Throughout this period of development children remain acutely aware of the emotional state of their primary caregiver, although they will ultimately develop a separate sense of ‘self’.
A basic sense of trust supports a child to engage in learning and exploration outside of their primary attachment relationship, because they are now confident that their caregiver will be there for them when needed. When a child’s attachment has been disturbed or disrupted, it impacts on their willingness and confidence to explore, and therefore affects their social, cognitive, and physical development over time.
The first few years of a child’s life are characterised by rapid physical and cognitive growth and development (Healthwise, 2019). From birth, there is a rapid development in language and communication, as children learn to understand what is being said and what is happening around them. During this period, they go from having very little control over their bodies, to crawling, standing, walking and running.